America's "Invisible" Women
My last column on these pages was about Mr. Wrong. This one is about
Mrs. Right-Anne Wright of Lakeland, Florida, to be specific.
It all began with President Clinton's announcement about America's
need for "a new government," articulated as part of his
second inaugural address. I thought at the time (and still do) that
people ought to take such a serious statement seriously. There was
only one such call in American history previous to this one-by Thomas
Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. Those who did not
take him seriously at the time lived to regret it.
Anne Wright took Mr. Clinton seriously and, having read my column
on the subject in the National Weekly Edition, wrote a letter expressing
her deep concern about the president's "new kind of government."
The letter attested to her overwhelming preference for the kind
we have had for more than two hundred years and to her growing fear
that we might be losing it. But, she asked at the end, "what
is a little old lady in tennis shoes to do?"
The resulting sporadic exchange of letters eventually led to phone
conversations and, a few months ago, we finally met. The occasion
was a town meeting at the University of Tampa. She made the trip
driving from Lakeland in a tropical rain storm, which was remarkable,
given her age. Of course, I would not dream of revealing her age,
but she began her nursing career in World War II.
The town meetings we hold set forth America's founding principles,
then invite a local panel to take these in their crossfire. Finally,
the entire audience joins the discussion. Currently there is no
shortage of those who take issue with the ways this nation was founded,
and our format provides a ready-made opportunity for them to come
right to the point. Some do it seriously, others poke fun at the
Founders and at the Constitution, yet others shed their civility
and adopt the style of street hecklers.
But the outcome is uniform. Faced with the incontrovertible truths
about America's founding, all arguments against it dissolve. Nothing
of comparable worth had ever existed before, and nothing of comparable
success has come into being since. Those who argue against it might
start out believing that they know more, but turn out to comprehend
considerably less than the men who wrote the Declaration, the Constitution,
the Federalist Papers. And the audience, apparently, loves to see
the Founders carry the day.
Apparently, Anne Wright, too, liked our town meeting, because she
took it upon herself to arrange one in Lakeland. Flattering, but,
frankly, even after reading her thoughtful letters, I had some doubts
about the "little old lady in tennis shoes" putting together
a host committee, a venue, a panel, and everything else that goes
with such an event.
I should have remembered Miriam Wilson who, in 1957, upon learning
that I, a complete stranger, wanted to come to America, sent me
a letter to Vienna, Austria, announcing herself as my "American
mother," at work to create a scholarship fund. Soon thereafter,
Congress declared a moratorium on Hungarian immigration. Two years
later, Miriam was suddenly asked by the authorities whether she
still wanted "that Hungarian student" to come. She said
an unhesitating "yes," even though the scholarship fund
had long evaporated. She brought me over literally on a prayer,
but she did not let on until I was well settled in my new life.
I should have remembered Ruth Rivers, wife of the director of civilian
personnel at the headquarters of the United States Air Force in
Europe in the early 1960's. As well as running the full and complex
lives of her husband and two sons-one an athlete, the other a budding
artist-she looked after a sizable contingent of young Americans
stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany. Most were single, or separated
from their spouses, or just lonely. Ruth held together the entire
community. She never seemed tired. She never was "too busy"
to do whatever needed doing.
I should have remembered. Instead, after a month of silence from
Lakeland, I called Anne Wright last week, more or less expecting
to hear that the task had proved too difficult in the short run.
In her accustomed manner, understating the understatement, Anne
recited the venue and the arrangements for the event. Then she calmly
listed the "crossfire" panel she had put together-a high
school teacher of advanced history and economics; the former mayor
and commissioner of Lakeland; the local representative of the NAACP;
and the public defender of the 10th Judicial Circuit. No professional,
highly-paid advance team could have come up with a more perfect
local panel to take on the principles on which this nation was founded.
These days, unhappiness with all three branches of government cuts
across party lines. It is true, many of the "visible"
people cause one to question whether America's best days could really
No country is perfect. But in America, since the days of the founding,
the "wright" people have always outnumbered the wrong
They still do.